September 11, 2009

Weekly News Roundup: the Many Ways of Water

This week, water is the big theme in natural security news. From water shortages in Iraq and Kenya, to flooding in Turkey and North Korea—some of it deliberate—the news proved the complexity of water-related issues.

Recently, U.S. troops have undertaken projects to conserve and purify water in several regions of Iraq. In Contingency Operating Location Q-West, water usage is rationed to 15 gallons a day per service member, and troops are working with contractors to boost local water pressure to fill nearby lakes. In Basra, an Army civil affairs team is working with local Iraqis and the State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team to increase the production capacity of a nearby water plant. Finally, U.S. troops are installing sun-powered water filtration devices on the eastern edge of Baghdad to help purify contaminated water supplies.

In another part of the Middle East where water has long bred contention, Israel and Jordan are looking to build pipelines to bring water from the Dead Sea across Jordanian territory and into Israel. Some of this “Red Sea to Dead Sea” water will be desalinated for civil use by both Israel and Jordan, and some will be used to raise the level of the Dead Sea, which has been receding steadily in recent decades. Both nations suffer from chronic water supply problems, but some environmentalists claim that Israel would do better to stop growing water-intensive crops for export.

To the south and west, water continues to raise security issues in Africa, but for different reasons in different regions of the continent. Drought is paralyzing Kenya’s economy, since it is ruining tourism and agriculture simultaneously. Beyond the economy, the drought is causing clear security problems for Kenya, as “it is stirring up tensions in the ramshackle slums where the water taps have run dry, and spawning ethnic conflict in the hinterland as communities fight over the last remaining pieces of fertile grazing land.” Meanwhile, across the continent, heavy flooding has affected hundreds of thousands of people in West Africa. Since June, at least 159 people have been killed and 16 different countries have seen damage to their land and infrastructure.

But water can do more than give life and take it away. As we’ve noted on this blog before, water could potentially be used to power aircraft and surface ships. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has called on outside innovators in its search to turn seawater into a usable military fuel.  If any of our readers have good, serious proposals, send them to DARPA, and you too can help the nation increase its energy supplies.